The spike in the amount of data about children collected online is spurring action on Capitol Hill.
By the time most kids turn 18, there are already about 70,000 posts about them on the internet, according to the United Kingdom’s Children’s Commissioner.
So Democrats want to pass a law that will allow adults to force internet businesses to delete all the data collected about them before they were 13. The Clean Slate for Kids Online Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would apply only to websites targeting kids, like YouTube Kids or Facebook Kids Messenger.
Consumer watchdogs say it’s a good first step that will give people more control, but internet companies are calling it pointless.
“It’s a growing threat,” Ed Mierzwinski of the Public Interest Research Group said of websites tracking kids’ activity. “From birth on, they want to know what you did so they can predict what you do when you’re an adult.”
Current law prohibits websites from saving data about kids unless a parent gives consent, but parents often do, sometimes without realizing it.
“I think Congress has lagged on privacy and it’s concerning when that privacy is intended for young people,” said David Simpson, a former Homeland Security cyber expert now with the Federal Communications Commission.
Several internet companies say the Clean Slate measure would cause confusion and encourage kids to be reckless on sites not covered by the law.
“It sends the wrong message to children not to think before they post and sends the wrong message to parents that they don’t need to worry,” said Carl Szabo of NetChoice, who represents companies like Twitter, Google and PayPal.
Those companies oppose the bill, saying it’s a fake solution. They say parents should be more accountable.
A similar bill failed to pass last year, and the new version is currently stalled in Congress.